Wow- it’s been a while, huh? No games since Saturday! Almost forgot the NBA was still in season. Tonight, the Hornets (40-31, 16-20 on the road) enter the home stretch of the season against the Jazz (36-36, 20-15 at home). As we begin the home stretch, a variety of scenarios are still in play for the Hornets- they could end up as high as the 5th seed or miss the playoffs entirely. For the Jazz, the scenarios are much more limited – it would take a near miracle to make the playoffs, and a loss tonight would pretty much be the final nail in their coffin. The Jazz are pretty banged up right now, with six players listed on the injury report (including starters Devin Harris and Derrick Favors, along with Russian berserker Andrei Kirilenko) and come in on a three game losing streak. The Jazz will also be on the second night of a back to back after getting blown out in OKC last night- combined with the injury problem, this should give the Hornets a bit of an edge. The Hornets come in looking to regroup after a devastating loss to the Celtics. The teams have already met twice this year and have split the series so far, with both games ending as a blow out win for the home team.Key matchups
Emeka Okafor vs Al Jefferson
Jefferson has been a bit of a disappointment so far this season, but he’s come on strong of late- he’s averaged 23.4 points (on over 50% shooting) and 12.6 boards in his last five games. He beat up the Hornets in the Jazz win, going for 23 points (10 of 16 shooting) and 10 boards, but barely made a dent in the Jazz’s loss (10 points and just 3 boards on 5 of 13 shooting). Oak seems to be returning to form, and with the Jazz missing several key weapons, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if Oak shuts Jefferson down, the Hornets should have no trouble pulling this one out. Oak was pretty bad in his first few games back from his injury, but he looks like he’s returning to pre injury form (at least on defense), so I think there’s a good chance Oak can shut him down.
Chris Paul vs Earl Watson
If harris doesn’t play, Watson will get the start, and CP3 will abuse him. In the last night’s game, Russel Westbrook went off for 31 points on 11-17 shooting. It’s not that Watson’s a bad defender, he just doesn’t have the quickness to keep up with an elite PG. Chris Paul was miserable in the Hornets’ last game against the Celtics and will likely come out with an ax to grind. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a CP3 throwback night (something like 28 points and 16 assists) against an already shaky Jazz defense. Watson is also a bit turnover prone and doesn’t have the best handle, so don’t be surprised if CP3 grabs 4 or 5 steals.
David West vs Paul Millsap
A Louisiana native and LA Tech graduate, Millsap is a rapidly rising star in the league. He’s very similar to DWest- he’s a bit smaller and not as good defensively, but I feel like he’s developed into a bit better of a scorer and a better at the rim finisher. Neither player has had trouble scoring on the other in the games so far this season, but DWest has had a bit of an edge in their matchups. Look for that to continue tonight.
The Hornets are two point favorites. The Hornets come in fully rested and healthy after a long break, while the Jazz are banged up and on the second night of a back to back. Lay the points and take the Hornets… I’m predicting a game that’s no where near as close as the final store, as the Hornets lay off the glass after going up ~15 points with six to play in the final quarter.
Pick – Hornets 98, Jazz 92